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Finally!


Downtown Streetscape project gets underway



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Workers were out Tuesday preparing the downtown for construction. Photo by Gabriel Ouzounian (click for larger version)
March 16, 2011 - After delays, complications, and a number of negative reactions for over a year, the Streetscape project is finally underway, and it's garnering a fair amount of positive response.

Starting Monday, March 14, workers began marking utilities and other amenities hidden beneath Broadway and Flint Street, with plans to saw into the road and sidewalk on Tuesday.

Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Executive Director Suzanne Perreault said her primary concern is keeping businesses open and informed throughout the three month long process.

"We plan on having daily and weekly forecasts on our website (wadetrim.com/lakeorionstreetscape) that will keep people informed as to where closures or restrictions are going to be," said Perreault. "Police Chief Jerry Narsh will also be sending out email alerts, and this is something anyone can sign up for and receive.

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"It's just really important that the community continues to support the downtown businesses as much as they have, and we're going to try and streamline this process as much as possible with signs and detours."

The current time schedule for the laborers working on the project is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a projected end date of July 1. Perreault stressed that access to businesses and traffic flow would be maintained and that extra parking provisions are currently being investigated.

The scope of the project, which has a price tag of around $2 million, is a three stage beautification and renovation process. The first step, renovations to children's park, will be subtle but will provide easier access to the park from the Broadway wall, which is also getting a substantial face lift with amenities like terrace seating being installed.

The second part of the project is more about utility, and mostly related to the repaving of the roads downtown. This part of the project will see the intersection at Broadway and Flint raised to meet the sidewalk with decorative bricks replacing the pavement, while the corner, or "bump-outs," will also be expanded so pedestrians have a shorter crossing. While this means the loss of eight parking spots at the intersection's corners, great efficiency along Broadway and Flint may add some.

The third part of the project is about beautifying the downtown by replacing the trees with some that don't grow as high, flower urns at the corners of Broadway and Flint, and the extension of the decorative brick along the sidewalks bordering these roads. Benches will also be added.

Perrault anticipated the town's main intersection to be closed from April to May due to the repaving effort, which account for about half of the Streetscape's budget. She's hoping that business owners remain upbeat about the renovations.

"I'm trying to meet with every business, and we don't know what's going to happen right now, but we're trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel and stay positive," said Perreault. "We're really trying to make sure people in the community know whats happening early."

Despite the scope of the project and it's intent, some business owners remain skeptical about the project. Lloyd Coe, Owner of Ed's Broadway Gift & Costume said he thinks the end result will be beautiful, but he's not sure if the expenditure is a wise one in the current economy.

"I question whether the money is being spent in the right way, because grant or not it's still taxpayer money," said Coe. "Don't get me wrong, I think it will look great down here, but the way the economy is, as a business person, I have to question these kinds of things."

Coe added the loss of parking was particularly distressing to him.

However, other business owners cannot wait for the project to get underway. Char Westman, owner of Tesori Gifts, said she had seen the effects of similar project in southern Michigan and Northern Ohio, and the results have been positive.

"There's really no good time to do something of this size, and you're never going to have 100 percent support, but it's such an eyesore to come down here and see the roads right now," said Westman. "The towns I've seen with these changes taking place have just been flourishing, so we're really excited to see this change, but the main thing is to keep the business owners in the loop and get it done quickly.

"We need to stop postponing and talking about it and just get it done."

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